Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Natural Bridge

Near Sun City, Kansas
In the autumn of 1887, Isaac Werner made three trips to Sun City, Kansas to market potatoes.  The market for potatoes nearer his homestead was glutted, but the soil around Sun City did not encourage farmers to raise potatoes.  Of the rugged terrain, Isaac wrote "curious country around here."  To read more about Isaac's trips, visit "The Trip to Sun City" in the blog archives at 2-20-2014.

The photograph at right gives some idea of the rugged terrain; however, one parcel of land was so rocky and rough that people called it "Hell's Half Acre."  The Barber County Index published an interview on October 6, 1927 of an early settler from Kentucky who had come to Barber County to claim land.  During that interview, Green Adams explained why he had chosen such rugged land.  "The first of March 1873 I came to Barber County.  A great many people wonder why I came to Barber county when I passed over so much good land further east.  The reason was because there was plenty of timber and water in Barber County.  As I came from a heavily timbered country I didn't think I could get along without timber."

The land known as "Hell's Half Acre" remained in the Adams family until about 1958, when family member, Bruce Adams, sold the land near Sun City and moved into Pratt.  By that time, many people in the surrounding region knew about a natural bridge and some caves located on the land.  It was not unusual for families to travel there for picnics.  Schools even brought buses of children to visit the natural bridge.

I was one of those school children.  Most of us had never seen a natural bridge, and to our innocent eyes this was about as exciting as a visit to a National Park like Arches or the Grand Canyon.  The existence of this natural wonder spread as far as Lindsborg, Kansas, where artist Birger Sandzen learned of its existence.  He traveled to the site and used the bridge as the subject for his art.  Sandzen's painting is the centerpiece for the special exhibit, "Kansas Ties," currently at the Vernon Filley Art Museum through November 30, 2014.

Sandzen's oil painting  "The Bridge, Pratt, Ks," 1941
A recent visitor to the museum shared the website for the December 5, 1940 Johnson (Kansas) Pioneer, where on page 10 an interview with Birger Sandzen is reported.  Sandzen explained that he had been doing some sketching of the natural bridge, and he urged the importance of stabilizing the bridge to preserve its beauty.  He had observed that rains were weakening the rocks, endangering its collapse.  Sandzen praised the beauty of the area, saying it reminded him of the Grand Canyon.

At the Opening of the "Kansas Ties" exhibition at the Filley on Friday evening, August 22, 2014, many visitors described their own visits as children to the area, sharing clear memories of the wonderous natural bridge they had enjoyed.  Sadly, the bridge no longer arches across the creek bed below.  Although many of us clearly remember the bridge, no one recalled the amount of water depicted in Sandzen's painting.  In fact, several believed the bridge spanned a dry creek bed.

"Kansas Ties" is on loan from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas, and along with Sandzen's work, the work of other artists with Kansas connections, as well as connections as friends, fellow artists, and students of Sandzen, are exhibited.  Perhaps best known among those artists is John Steuart Curry, famous  for his mural in the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka with its depiction of abolishinist John Brown.  Curry was included with Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton and Iowa artist Grant Wood as the three leading Regional Painters of the early 20th Century.

While you can no longer visit the natural bridge in Hell's Half Acre, you can visit the Vernon Filley Art Museum to see its depiction in an oil painting and to learn more about the role of Kansas artists during this period.  The "Kansas Ties" exhibition may be viewed through November 30th, and you may even want to join one of the 1st Saturday Docent tours conducted the first Saturday of every month for visitors who come to the Filley at 1:30 p.m..  Visit for more details.


The Blog Fodder said...

Too bad about the loss of the bridge. Nature seems to level things out over time.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

A good reason to preserve what we can and be sure to enjoy what we cannot preserve while we have it!